Nathan Englander is the author of the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, as well as the internationally bestselling story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, and the novel The Ministry of Special Cases. He was the 2012 recipient of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for What We Talk About. His short fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Washington Post, as well as The O. Henry Prize Stories and numerous editions of The Best American Short Stories. Translated into twenty languages, Englander was selected as one of "20 Writers for the 21st Century" by The New Yorker, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN/Malamud Award, the Bard Fiction Prize, and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. He's been a fellow at the Dorothy & Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and at The American Academy of Berlin.
He is currently the Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University. In 2012, along with the publication of his new collection, Englander's play The Twenty-Seventh Man premiered at The Public Theater, and his translation New American Haggadah was published by Little Brown. He also co-translated Etgar Keret's Suddenly A Knock at the Door, published by FSG. He lives in Brooklyn, New York and Madison, Wisconsin.
Englander has been a fellow at the Dorothy & Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and at The American Academy of Berlin. He teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Hunter College, and in the summer, he teachers a course for NYUs Writers in Paris program. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Nathan Englander discusses God, religion, Israel, and writing For The Relief of Unbearable Urges; and, in a separate interview following, he discusses his first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases (2007).
Tell us about your childhood,
your religious upbringing and how you came to reject it.
I grew up in an Orthodox home in New York, where I had a right-wing, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, fire-and-brimstone, free-thought free, shtetl-mentality, substandard education. And so I began to look elsewhere; I began to read literature. Simple as that.
Was your move to secular life an epiphany?
No, very far from it. I think I took the route Maimonides recommended. I was religious for many years after I started questioning my world. I stayed religious until the first week I set foot in Israel, when I was nineteen. That was the first time I ever got into a car on the Sabbath. I had started veering; I went to a secular college, though I stayed religious there.
Was that a major culture shock for you?
College was unbelievably eye-opening, coming from where I did, though all it really consisted of was meeting my neighbors from Long ...
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